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Excerpts: How Authority Collapsednext

auntie
   First Communion

quoteNow imagine the reaction when the Church, with its power to make laws coming down in a straight line from God, started making new rules that were the exact opposite of the old rules we had come to know our entire lives. One day, the sanctuary behind the communion rail was a holy place, accessible to only priests and altar boys during Mass (and the nuns and girls who cleaned it off-hours); the next day some neighbor was in there reading the Epistle. One day, the last thing we would ever do was touch the consecrated Host—only a priest could do that, his fingers specially blessed for that purpose when he was ordained; the next day the priest was putting the Host in our hands, a stunning break of taboo. Either God was losing His Marbles or the Church had never really been honest about that whole law-making thing to begin with.

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Changing the rules also made us feel a little stupid for following them in the first place. All that fish on Friday and fasting from midnight before Communion, for what? It also inclined us to make sure we weren’t diddled again. When considering Church prohibitions, we calculated the odds of the Church changing its mind in the future. If a prohibition might change later, why abide by it now? If any rule could change, we assumed that it might change and eventually would, even though it hadn’t.

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In 1968, Pope Paul VI declared in his encyclical Humanae Vitae that the use of artificial contraception was a mortal sin. This was no small matter for believing Catholics. ... The encyclical got a rancorous reception, particularly since a copy of the Commission’s recommendation to drop the ban had been leaked to the press. ... The encyclical was a tipping point. After it, many Catholics decided to make up their own minds on this and then inevitably on other matters of faith. For them, conscience and Catholic teaching on the sinfulness of contraception were opposed. Being good Catholics, they chose conscience.

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